Musing on a Career: The Art of Pausing. Cultivating Serendipity

I would like to offer some thoughts about the meaning of careerism, and the importance of pausing to allow serendipity to blossom. While these observations arise from a significant life change for me, I believe they also apply in daily business life. The challenge is, how can you make them apply in the context of your own career.

What drives careerism? I believe there are three main drivers. The first and most basic is economic: to make a living. The second is connected to our desire and capacity to achieve something in life for ourselves: to satisfy our egos. The third is outward-looking: to have an impact on others’ lives.

I decided to redirect my life about a year ago, and shortly thereafter I was forced to lay down for a few months due to health reasons. This gave me ample time to think about my career to date, and where I should go next. Looking back candidly, I see now that my desire to leave my mark on something big in business has been an incredible motivator, satisfying my ego and financial needs for many years. At the same time, it’s become increasingly clear to me that success is a powerful drug that sets the bar higher and higher: once you’ve tried it, you want more of it. Thus, over time I found myself in an accelerating upward spiral, as I took on bigger and bigger jobs, each with greater responsibilities. With each step, achieving success became more demanding, and discomfort grew in me, until I realized I was not as happy or satisfied as I hoped. More adrenalized yes, but not happier. Maybe even the opposite, less and less happy.

The questioning began: Why am I doing this? Is it what I want to be or want to do in life? How do I want to impact others’ lives? What do I want to leave behind in terms of personal and business achievements?

As I was laying down, thinking hard but free from my job’s day to day stress, I was reminded of what motivated me most at work in the last few years, above and beyond money and ego. Time away from the daily drive for success and recognition that careerism requires permitted me to perceive more clearly that having a positive impact on others’ lives at work was what gave me the most satisfaction. Pausing allowed me to reflect with honesty on my real desires, and to focus on where I might discover some hidden personal talent that I am ready to deploy in a different way.

Photo by Sasha Freemind (Unsplash)Where is serendipity in this whole mix? Serendipity is a word I always liked, not only because of how it sounds, but also because of its inherent mystery. The word describes something magical: what some call “happy accidents”. But in my view, there is more to serendipity than “happy accidents”. Although good fortune sometimes appears to happen by chance, more often it comes because you provoke it by your actions, by your thoughts, or by listening to others and learning from things around you. Open-mindedness and curiosity foster your ability to make connections where others fail to see them. That’s how serendipity makes happy accidents happen.

So: pausing in my career makes me hungry for serendipity. I’m ready for the new and unexpected, and thrilled by how it could challenge and improve my life going forward. Suddenly, I have a completely different career perspective. To put it into practice, I am ready to turn things upside down, leaving behind my hyper-organized career in Europe and trusting that accepting serendipity will improve how I approach life. I’m ready for a new chapter, and it will take place in New York City, the epicenter of both opportunities and challenges!

Photo by Brendan Church (Unsplash)

I don’t know how I am going to make it happen. But to be at ease with uncertainty, and confident I will find my way, is already a personal victory. I haven’t felt this good in many years, ready to enjoy my renewed freedom and energy. The more time goes by, the more I value serendipity – listening to the signals sent by my surroundings – and by my heart and mind – to make happy accidents happen. Maybe this is the beginning of wisdom? Let’s see…!


This article was originally published in the Women Matter Network Newsletter by McKinsey & Co in February 2017.